Defence secretary Greg Moriarty has confirmed his department is looking at alternatives to French-designed submarines, amid simmering tensions with the company designing Australia’s future fleet
Under questioning by Labor senator Penny Wong, Mr Moriarty would not reveal what fallback options were being explored but described the process as “contingency planning”.
“It’s prudent that Defence is looking at alternatives if we are unable to proceed,” he told a Senate hearing on Wednesday.
“We are very committed to delivering the Attack (Class submarines) but it’s appropriate that we would be looking at alternatives if we were unable to proceed.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris later this month, with the two leaders due to discuss the troubled submarine project.
Naval Group executives visited Australia earlier this year in a bid to promote its commitment to maximising Australian content in the Attack Class submarines.
Defence has not yet secured a binding agreement on a minimum level of local content in relation to any one submarine.
Labor frontbencher Brendan O’Connor said the Morrison government “tried to talk tough” on defence but six different ministers in eight years had failed to deliver.
“The government has bungled this defence asset contract since the beginning, with it now running a decade late, $40 billion over budget and a reduced commitment to Australian industry content,” he said.
“Now they have been forced to look at other options.”
There are serious tensions between Australia and the French shipbuilding company, with the $90 billion submarine contract plagued by multiple cost and timetable blowouts.
Mr Moriarty was pressed on whether he had provided more regular advice about the submarine contract to ministers over the past year.
“I have certainly thought more about this issue over the last 12 months because it became clear to me that we were having challenges with the Attack class program over the last 15, 12 months,” he said.
“So of course, you do reasonably prudent thinking about what one of those options might be, or what you might be able to do if you are unable to proceed.
“But the government is absolutely committed to trying to work through with Naval Group and build a regionally superior submarine in Adelaide.”
The Navy’s director-general of submarine capability denied an ABC report that Defence had begun examining whether a German Type 214 submarine could provide a possible interim capability.
“Not in the work I’m completing; not in my work, no,” Commodore Timothy Brown told the committee.
Commodore Brown declined to say what options he had examined because his work on “undersea warfare” was classified.
“Although my work is classified I think in the broad you could say we’re looking at the best options for Australia or defence to be able to counter future threats and making sure we understand the requirements,” he said.